Kelson Haldane

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Kelson Haldane faces the magic of Charissa Furstána-Festila on the cover of the revised edition of Deryni Rising (2004).

Kelson Haldane of Gwynedd is a fictional character in the Deryni series of historical fantasy novels by Katherine Kurtz.

Character introduction[edit]

Kelson Cinhil Rhys Anthony Haldane is the twenty-sixth King of Gwynedd, ascending to the throne in the year 1120. He is the twenty-first member of the House of Haldane to wear the crown of Gwynedd, and the fifteenth consecutive Haldane to be king since the end of the Festillic Interregnum.

Explanation of the character's name[edit]

While Kelson's forename is not a previously-established royal name in Gwynedd, two of his three middle names honor his royal ancestors. The name Cinhil is borne by two previous kings (King Cinhil I and King Cinhil II) as well as several princes of the royal family. In addition, Rhys was the forename of the first Cinhil's youngest son, King Rhys Michael. Kelson's third middle name, Anthony, is also the middle name of Duke Alaric Morgan, the closest friend of his father, King Brion Haldane.

Character sketch[edit]


Kelson's primary motivation throughout the novels in which he appears is the protection and well-being of his realm. His efforts to secure and preserve the safety of his lands and his subjects often take precedence over his own personal desires.


Kelson is determined to stop the persecution of Deryni in Gwynedd. Not only does he seek to overturn the secular and ecclesiastical laws that limit the legal rights of Deryni, he actively seeks to restore Saint Camber to a place of honor and rebuild the ancient Deryni institutions of learning. Additionally, he seeks to secure a lasting peace with both Torenth and Meara.


The first Deryni novel, Deryni Rising, establishes several recurring conflicts for Kelson, some of which plague him repeatedly over the course of the following novels. Multiple opposing characters attempt to seize the throne of Gwynedd or large portions of the kingdom itself, most notably the Festillic Pretender Charissa Furstána-Festila in Deryni Rising, King Wencit Furstán of Torenth in High Deryni, the Mearan Pretender Caitrin Quinnell in The King's Justice, and Kelson's cousin, Conall Haldane, in The Quest for Saint Camber. Charissa and Wencit are also part of ongoing tension with the neighboring kingdom of Torenth, a conflict that continues throughout the series until its resolution in King Kelson's Bride. Similarly, the conflict of Kelson's strained relationship with his mother, Queen Jehana, reappears multiple times throughout the series. As Kelson ages through the course of the novels, he is forced to deal with the increasing pressure of his family and advisors to find a wife and produce an heir.

The issue of Kelson's Deryni heritage sparks several related conflicts, most notably a bitter enmity with Archbishop Edmund Loris, a conflict that grows in intensity across four novels until its eventual resolution in The King's Justice. Kelson's use of his Deryni powers is a personal conflict of conscience, as he constantly seeks to utilize his natural gifts in ways that will not frighten those around him. Both of these are part of the larger issue of Kelson's attempts to reform all of Gwyneddan society in an effort to restore Deryni to a position of equality throughout the realm.

Minor irritations[edit]

One of Kelson's primary sources of irritation is his relationship with the mysterious Camberian Council. As the self-proclaimed guardians of the Haldane line, the Council often seeks to intervene in issues that Kelson views as being outside of their purview, such as international matters of state, the royal succession, and, most especially, Kelson's decisions regarding the activation and use of the Haldane potential by other members of the royal family. Kelson not only resents their unsolicited opinions and interference, but he also chafes at the Council's conservative nature and their reluctance to be more open with their knowledge. However, Kelson's attitude toward the Council gradually evolves over time, as the maturing king eventually acknowledges the advantages of a more civil relationship with the Council.


Kelson's character arc does not culminate in one particular moment of revelation, but instead encompasses a series of experiences that mold and shape Kelson's character as he progresses along the journey from a young and frightened prince to a mature and confident king. Many of these experiences result in sharp lessons through which Kelson learns the difficult and bloody business of being a medieval monarch.

Biographical summary[edit]

Prior story[edit]

Kelson is born on November 14, 1106, the firstborn son and heir of King Brion Haldane of Gwynedd and his wife, Queen Jehana. Created Prince of Meara upon his birth, Kelson received an extensive education in both academic studies and military disciplines. In addition, he often sat at his father's side while King Brion held court, learning the arts of statecraft and leadership at a young age.

Actions in Deryni Rising[edit]

Kelson witnesses the death of his father, King Brion, during a hunting expedition on November 1, 1120. His first decision as the new King of Gwynedd is to send for his father's closest friend and advisor, Duke Alaric Morgan of Corwyn. After Morgan's arrival and subsequent arrest, Kelson secures his freedom by outwitting his mother, Queen Jehana, an act which displays his political acumen at an early age. Throughout the night, Kelson, Morgan, and Monsignor Duncan McLain attempt to unravel the clues that Brion left behind to activate Kelson's Haldane potential. Although Morgan and Duncan guide Kelson through the proscribed arcane ritual, Kelson's power does not appear to be activated. The following day, Kelson's coronation is interrupted by the Festillic Pretender Charissa Furstána-Festila, the Deryni sorceress who murdered Brion. Charissa challenges Kelson to a Duel Arcane, a ritual form of magical combat, in an attempt to claim the throne of Gwynedd. In a desperate attempt to protect her son, Jehana attacks Charissa, revealing her own Deryni heritage in the process. However, Charissa easily defeats the queen and once again challenges Kelson. As the duel is about to begin, Kelson finally unravels his father's final clue and fully activates his Haldane powers. Combining his Haldane magic with his half-Deryni heritage, Kelson succeeds in defeating Charissa and securing his throne. The coronation ceremony continues, and Kelson is formally crowned King of Gwynedd on November 15, 1120.

Actions in Deryni Checkmate[edit]

Kelson appears at both the beginning and the ending of Deryni Checkmate, as most of the novel follows the actions of Duke Alaric Morgan and Monsignor Duncan McLain. In the second chapter, Kelson is informed of Archbishop Edmund Loris' plans to suspend Duncan and place Morgan's entire duchy under interdict, and he agrees to send Duncan to warn Morgan of the impending danger. Toward the end of the novel, Kelson travels to Culdi to attend the wedding of Morgan's sister and Duncan's half-brother. When both bride and groom are killed in a tragic accident on March 29, 1121, it falls to Kelson to tell Morgan and Duncan of the deaths. Afterwards, Kelson is forced to sharply remind Morgan of his duties, refocusing the Deryni duke before his despair can overwhelm him.

Actions in High Deryni[edit]

As the novel begins, Kelson is preparing to lead his army into Corwyn to put down the rebellion of Warin de Grey and Archbishop Loris. Kelson agrees to allow Duke Alaric Morgan and Monsignor Duncan McLain to travel to the city of Dhassa, hoping that the two renegade Deryni can reconcile with the bishops who have refused to support Loris. Their mission is successful, and Kelson accepts the homage of the bishops shortly before confronting Loris and Warin. When the army arrives in Corwyn, Kelson sneaks into Morgan's capital with Morgan, Duncan, and Bishop Thomas Cardiel and succeeds in securing the loyalty of Warin and his forces. Loris and his supporters are imprisoned, but Kelson grants clemency to those bishops who are willing to join with him willingly. With the ecclesiastical schism healed, the united Gwyneddan army marches to Dhassa, where Kelson learns of Earl Bran Coris' treason and the defeat of Duke Jared McLain's army.

On July 1, 1121, Kelson's army meets the forces of King Wencit Furstán of Torenth. Wencit attempts to goad Kelson into an unprepared attack by murdering one hundred hostages, but Kelson uses his magic to prevent his army from attacking. During a parley that follows, Wencit challenges Kelson to a Duel Arcane in which each king will be attended by three companions, and the victor will gain dominion over the other's kingdom. Wencit promises the unbiased mediation of the Camberian Council for the Duel Arcane, but he is unaware that Bishop Denis Arilan is a member of the Council. After Arilan takes Kelson, Morgan, and Duncan to a meeting with the Council, and secures their protection for the Duel Arcane, Kelson formally accepts Wencit's challenge. The next day, the Duel Arcane begins as Kelson, Morgan, Duncan, and Arilan face Wencit, Rhydon, Bran Coris, and Wencit's brother-in-law, Lionel. However, before the magical combat can commence, all four of Kelson's opponents are poisoned by Rhydon, who soon reveals that he is actually an imposter who has been planning his vengeance on Wencit for years. Kelson decides to grant his foes the mercy of a quick death, and uses his powers to kill Wencit, Bran, and Lionel. Although Kelson is disturbed by the cold-blooded nature of his opponents' deaths, he reluctantly admits that such actions are sometimes necessary for a king.

Actions in The Bishop's Heir[edit]

At the beginning of the novel, Kelson is in Culdi, addressing the Curia of Bishops who have gathered to elect the new Bishop of Meara. Afterwards, Kelson departs on a progress to check on several of the local border barons and encounters Lord Dhugal MacArdry, the son and heir of the Earl of Transha and Kelson's foster-brother. Kelson decides to visit Dhugal's father in Transha, where the king attempts to ply Earl Caulay for information regarding the Mearan Pretender, Caitrin Quinnell. While probing Caulay's mind that night, Kelson is telepathically contacted by Duke Alaric Morgan, an incident that reveals the presence of Dhugal's mysterious mental shields. Kelson returns to Rhemuth, only to be informed that former-Archbishop Edmund Loris has escaped his confinement and Dhugal has been captured and taken prisoner by Loris and Caitrin. Despite the wintry conditions, the king leads a strike force to Ratharkin, where Dhugal is rescued and two of Caitrin's children, Sidana and Llewell, are captured. Kelson instructs the Mearan rebels to surrender by Christmas before leading his party back to Rhemuth, where he waits two weeks for his answer.

On Christmas Day, Caitrin's envoy brings both a response of blatant defiance and the head of Bishop Henry Istelyn. Resigned to a military campaign the following spring, Kelson persuades Sidana to marry him, hoping that a joint heir of the two royal families will convince some Mearan nobles to abandon Caitrin's cause. Two weeks of preparation ensue, as both Kelson and Sidana attempt to accept a marriage for reasons of state. The wedding takes place on January 6, 1124, but Llewell murders Sidana shortly after the vows are spoken in a desperate attempt to thwart Kelson's goals. Shocked and horrified by Sidana's sudden death, Kelson can only weep as he cradles his dead bride's body.

Actions in The King's Justice[edit]

As the novel begins, Kelson is overseeing the final preparations of his upcoming military campaign into Meara. Although the knowledge that Bishop Duncan McLain is the legitimate father of Earl Dhugal MacArdry helped ease the pain of Sidana's savage death, the execution of Sidana's brother and murderer has only further inflamed the Mearan rebels. Kelson's strained relationship with his mother is rekindled by her return to Rhemuth, but he refuses to let her presence distract him. That night, Kelson leads an arcane ritual to partially activate the Haldane potential of his uncle and heir, Prince Nigel Haldane, despite the objections of the Camberian Council. On the following morning, Kelson oversees the departure of his northern army, which he places under the command of Duncan and Dhugal. Several days later, the king receives King Liam Lajos II of Torenth and his mother, who travel to Rhemuth to acknowledge Kelson as Overlord of Torenth. After the oaths are exchanged, Kelson decides to place mother and son in honorable custody, using them as hostages to ensure that no Torenthi hostilities take place while he is occupied with putting down the Mearan rebellion. The next day, Kelson and Duke Alaric Morgan lead the southern half of the royal army toward Meara.

Over the next month, Kelson and Morgan attempt to hunt down the Mearan forces led by the Pretender's son, Prince Ithel. At a scene of destruction and rape at a small abbey, they encounter a Deryni novice named Rothana, who is a cousin of Morgan's wife. Kelson and Rothana clash over Kelson's attempt to probe the mind of one of the rape victims, but Rothana eventually agrees to read the girl's mind and then pass the information to Kelson. Kelson identifies the attacker as Ithel himself, and renews his search for the Mearan prince with a new vengeance. On July 2, 1124, Kelson finally captures his quarry, and he quickly orders the Ithel's execution. That same night, Kelson is telepathically contacted by Dhugal, who informs the king that the northern army has been routed and Duncan has been captured. The king immediately orders a forced march through the night, and his army falls upon Sicard's host the following morning. During the battle, both Kelson and Morgan use their Deryni powers to protect the tortured Duncan from a series of arrows, and Kelson later kills Sicard with a single arrow to prevent him from causing further loss of life. The Gwyneddan army wins the day, as Kelson executes Sicard on the battlefield by using his Deryni abilities to shoot him through the eye, and Archbishop Loris is captured. Kelson then leads his army to Laas, where he secures Caitrin's surrender. Although Caitrin is permitted to live out the rest of her days in confinement, both Loris and Caitrin's nephew, Judhael, are executed. Kelson has once again won a war, but the cost of life on both sides, particularly Judhael's death, weigh heavily upon him.

Actions in The Quest for Saint Camber[edit]

On the last day of February in 1125, Kelson takes part in an ecclesiastical tribunal that has been called to determine the legitimacy of Bishop Duncan McLain's past marriage. He carefully skirts the issue of Duncan's Deryni heritage and even plays down his own heritage by focusing on his Haldane abilities. Duncan's marriage is declared legal, and Earl Dhugal MacArdry is publicly acknowledged as Duncan's son and heir. That night, Kelson and Dhugal experience their first training with the drug merasha under the careful guidance of Duncan, Duke Alaric Morgan, and Bishop Denis Arilan. Shortly thereafter, Kelson and Dhugal are knighted, and the king reveals his growing attraction to Princess Rothana. Although Rothana admits her own feelings for Kelson, they agree to put off any formal commitments until he returns from his religious quest.

The next day, Kelson, Dhugal, and Prince Conall Haldane, Kelson's cousin, and a small party of retainers depart Rhemuth on a quest to discover relics of Saint Camber. The party stops briefly at Valoret while Kelson addresses the Curia of Bishops, then proceeds into the hills of Culdi. After examining several ruins, tragedy befalls the king's party when a rain-soaked trail collapses. Kelson and Dhugal fall into the river below and are swept over a waterfall into a cavern. Although both are sorely injured, Kelson almost fatally so, Dhugal attempts to nurse the king back to health, and they spend the next two weeks desperately searching for a way out of the caves. They eventually work their way through a series of man-made tombs, but they are immediately captured by members of the Servants of Saint Camber. Their wounds are cured when Dhugal discovers his own ability to Heal, but the Servants demand that Kelson answer for the crimes his ancestors committed against both Saint Camber and the Deryni. Kelson undergoes a trial in which he experiences a vision of Saint Camber, and the Servants agree to release the pair. After reuniting with Morgan and Duncan, Kelson learns that his uncle, Prince Nigel, has fallen into a coma. Not only has Conall become Prince Regent, he has also convinced Rothana to marry him. The king's party returns to Rhemuth, and Morgan, Duncan, and Dhugal awaken Nigel, who informs Kelson that his coma was the result of an arcane attack by Conall. Conall is taken into custody to await trial, and Kelson professes his continued love for Rothana. Nonetheless, Rothana refuses him, claiming that she is no longer a fitting bride for a king. Conall later admits all of his crimes during his trial, but he forces Kelson into a Duel Arcane before Kelson can proclaim a sentence. The cousins engage in the ritual combat, and Kelson defeats Conall by summoning an image of Saint Camber that is far more real than he anticipated. Several months later, after Conall's execution, Kelson and Dhugal travel to Corwyn to visit Morgan's newborn son, and they encounter a mysterious stranger who gives them a vision of Saint Camber's tomb.

Actions in King Kelson's Bride[edit]

Kelson begins the novel by giving away Princess Janniver at the wedding of his former squire. During the reception following the wedding, he pleads with Princess Rothana to marry him, assuring her that he still loves her. Although Rothana freely admits her own love for the king, she still refuses him, convinced that the widow of a convicted traitor is not a suitable bride. In her place, she urges Kelson to marry his cousin, Princess Araxie Haldane, with whom Rothana has developed a close friendship. Kelson is stung by her rejection, but he realizes that he must provide an heir to the throne soon. Shortly thereafter, Kelson departs for Torenth with King Liam Lajos II. Although Kelson has kept Liam in Rhemuth for four years to protect the young king and train him in the art of statecraft, Liam has now reached his legal majority and must return to his own kingdom. The royal party stops first at Corwyn, where Duke Alaric Morgan and his wife, Duchess Richenda, urge the heart-broken king to stop pining for Rothana. The party then continues to the court of the Hort of Orsal, where Kelson and Liam are attacked by a pair of would-be assassins, though they escape with no serious wounds. That night, Kelson and Earl Dhugal MacArdry are escorted by Prince Azim, a relative of Rothana's, to a private meeting with Princess Araxie. Araxie accepts Kelson's proposal, and the two are secretly betrothed by Bishop Arilan.

Kelson and his party continue to the Torenthi capital of Beldour, where the centuries of antagonism between the two kingdoms results in a wary and guarded greeting from the members of the Torenthi court. During a private meeting several days after their arrival, Liam and his uncle, Count Mátyás, inform Kelson and Morgan of a treasonous plot to murder Liam. Mátyás claims his older brothers, Duke Mahael and Count Teymuraz, are unwilling to give up the power they have wielded in Liam's absence and they plan to assassinate the young king during his coronation. Kelson and Morgan are skeptical, but Liam assures them of Mátyás' loyalty. Mátyás arranges for Kelson to take an active role in the coronation, and the king spends the next several days receiving training from Azim to prepare him for the ritual. When the ceremony finally occurs, Mátyás' warnings prove true as his brothers attempt to kill Liam. However, Kelson and Mátyás succeed in protecting Liam until he completes the arcane ritual, at which point the King of Torenth destroys Mahael's mind and orders his execution. During the completion of the ceremony, Kelson abdicates his position as Overlord of Torenth and acknowledges Liam-Lajos as the sovereign ruler of Torenth, an act that greatly impresses many of the Torenthi nobles. However, the celebration is marred by Teymuraz' escape. Concerned by the threat posed by Teymuraz, Kelson and his party use a series of Transfer Portals to retrieve Araxie and her family before returning to Gwynedd.

Back in Rhemuth, Kelson spends the next several weeks tending to domestic issues, assisted ably by the women of his family. With Araxie's guidance, he arranges the marriage of his cousin, Prince Rory Haldane, to Lady Noelie Ramsay, whose brother Brecon is already set to marry Araxie's sister, Princess Richelle Haldane. To finalize the marriage, Kelson must secure the approval of his uncle and Rory's father, Prince Nigel, who eventually concedes to restore the line of succession that would permit Rory to wed Noelie. Shortly thereafter, Rothana and the Servants of Saint Camber arrive in Rhemuth for the dedication of a new chapel in Saint Camber's honor. Kelson offers to establish the first Deryni school in centuries in Rhemuth, but he requires that Rothana and her son live in Rhemuth as well. Although initially reluctant to live so close to court, Rothana is persuaded by Araxie and Richenda to accept the king's offer. The following day, the celebration of the double Mearan-Haldane wedding is interrupted when Sean Lord Derry, under the mental control of Teymuraz, attacks Mátyás with a dagger. Teymuraz escapes once again, but Morgan and Dhugal succeed in healing Mátyás' wound while Kelson and Araxie assist Azim in removing the compulsion in Derry's mind. One week later, on August 7, 1128, Kelson and Araxie are married, and Araxie is crowned Queen of Gwynedd.

Actions in other Deryni works[edit]

Kelson appears briefly in the short story "The Knighting of Derry," which was published with several other short stories in the book The Deryni Archives in 1986. In the story, he is an eight-year-old prince who attends a knighting ceremony with his father, King Brion. At the end of the story, he and Father Denis Arilan escort the newly knighted Sean Lord Derry through the assembled guests at the celebration.

The second edition of the Codex Derynianus includes a chronology of literary events through May 1130, almost two years after the conclusion of King Kelson's Bride. In the chronology, Kelson restores the titles and estates of several Deryni houses that had been attainted over the previous two centuries. Additionally, he arranges two marriages between his family and royal house of Torenth, further securing peaceful relations with the neighboring kingdom. The chronology also includes the births of Kelson's and Araxie's twin daughters in 1129 and their son in 1130.


  • Parents:
  • Siblings:
    • Princess Rosane Marie Élisabeth Jaÿne Haldane (b. 1108, died four days later)
    • Lady Arÿole Rosaura Modeste de Laney (b. 1129, maternal half-sister)
  • First Spouse:
    • Married Princess Sidana Salena Yolanda MacArdry Quinnell on January 6, 1124 (died the same day)
  • Second Spouse:
    • Married Princess Araxie Léan Haldane on August 7, 1128
      • Princess Araxandra or Roxelane Louise Sivorn Cécile Haldane (twin, b. 1129)
      • Princess Rhuÿs Jehane Silvé Richelle Haldane (twin, b. 1129)
      • Prince Javan Uthyr Richard Urien Haldane (b. 1130)

Major themes[edit]

The recurring theme of the character's arc is Kelson's maturation from a frightened young boy into a strong and confident king. Although he shows flashes of political savvy and insight throughout the Chronicles of the Deryni trilogy, he relies heavily on the counsel of his elders, particularly Morgan and Duncan. He rarely makes an important decision without consulting one or both of them, and he almost always follows their advice. By the time of the Histories of King Kelson trilogy, Kelson has grown more comfortable and secure in his role as king, and he is much more confident in his own decisions and judgment. Nonetheless, he still values the counsel of Morgan and Duncan, and they are quick to privately correct the king's occasional lapses and/or mistakes. Kelson's experiences through the novels provide a series of (occasionally harsh) lessons which further evolve the character into the powerful and confident monarch that he appears to be in King Kelson's Bride. In addition, Kelson's maturation process effects his personal life as well as his political acumen. Beginning with The Bishop's Heir, Kelson's experiences mold his love life, as he is forced to continually adjust his romantic expectations. However, this aspect of the character's development is simply another facet of his overall maturation.


  • Katherine Kurtz, Deryni Rising, ISBN 0-345-01981-4 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, Deryni Checkmate, ISBN 0-345-22598-8 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, High Deryni, ISBN 0-345-23485-5 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, The Bishop's Heir, ISBN 0-345-31824-2 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, The King's Justice, ISBN 0-345-31825-0 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, The Quest for Saint Camber, ISBN 0-345-31826-9 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, King Kelson's Bride, ISBN 0-441-00732-5 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz, The Deryni Archives, ISBN 0-345-32678-4 Search this book on Logo.png.
  • Katherine Kurtz and Robert Reginald, Codex Derynianus (second edition), ISBN 1-887424-96-2 Search this book on Logo.png.

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